Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Restoration Project

FC Bolsover  6  Welbeck Lions  0

Central Midlands League North Division

Clifford has a dream - to restore senior football to the town of Bolsover.

Cliff Thomas is the Chairman of FC Bolsover, and over two years ago now he sat down and formulated a plan. After an abortive start, it finally got off the ground this season, and if we were to provide a progress report, then clearly you would argue from a footballing perspective, things are very much on track.

Football in Bolsover has had a varied history. Carr Vale United were a Midland Counties League side in the Seventies, but they disappeared off the map as the Pyramid system evolved. Then as we moved into the start of the millennium, Coalite Sports & Social started to make some noises and indeed waves in local football, eventually joining the Central Midlands League as Bolsover Town. It lasted from 2004 until 2008 before they folded mid season.

The Coalite Sports Ground that they played at still remains, albeit in need of significant renovation, and it is on that ground that Cliff plans to restore senior football to the town. However, until then they have to share.

The season started at the Shirebrook Academy 4G pitch, which from a spectator perspective is far from ideal being cage football, but pretty soon a deal was done for FC Bolsover to share Shirebrook Town's tidy facilities on Langwith Road.

Langwith Road in all it's glory
On the field it's going very well, and realistically it's between themselves and Clay Cross Town for the promotion spot to the Northern Counties East League. I would make them favourites and if that were to happen then that would be the highest level a team from Bolsover has competed at.

The game tonight against Welbeck Lions, had it happened earlier in the season, I genuinely would have put money on a double figure victory. Welbeck have been, without a shadow of a doubt, the absolute whipping boys, and just looking at this seasons results, we've seen Bolsover put fifteen past them in the corresponding game, Phoenix seventeen, Retford fifteen, Harworth thirteen, Dronfield Reserves and Bentley twelve while fellow strugglers Dinnington have bagged eleven!

But, they've managed to bring in some better players, and they won their first game of the season last Saturday against Bilsthorpe, furthermore, having drawn the previous game against Thorne they were two unbeaten before tonight, which is absolutely unheard of at Welbeck in recent years.

Tonight's game was the only one that beat the weather for miles around, and arriving early, I was still sceptical given the heavy rains, but having wandered onto the pitch with Bolsover Manager Jordan Hall, it was quite clear that we'd have no problems at all.

Pit Lights - a link to the industrial past
What was also quite clear from the early stages of the game was that this was a very different Welbeck side to the duffers that turned out back in August, yes, Bolsover were the better outfit, comfortably so, but compared to previous Welbeck sides, they at least looked like footballers.

6-0 might have been a touch harsh on Welbeck, it did seem like every chance Bolsover created found the net, and while the visitors didn't really look like breaching the hosts back line, they were far from outclassed in the game.

Welbeck, if they keep this side together, won't be whipping boys much longer, but as for Bolsover, the future is going to be very interesting. If Cliff can sort out the ground back in the town, which he claims in his programme notes will be next season, then senior football will have been restored to level previously unseen by the 'Bowza' locals.

The word 'Restoration' has been a key one in Bolsover since the closure of the coal mines, notably Markham Colliery which effectively employed the town, along with the aforementioned Coalite. As the landscape changes, a resurgent football club deserves to be part of that, and without doubt the foundations are in place.

Match Action


Monday, 20 March 2017

Glass Half Full

Stourbridge  3  Ilkeston  1

Northern Premier League - Premier Division

It must be great being a supporter of Stourbridge, or at least you would certainly think so.

Headlines have been made this season due to a fantastic FA Cup run that saw a replay victory against Whitehawk, a memorable home win over League One Northampton Town, before an agonising Third Round defeat at Wycombe Wanderers.

This hasn't been a one off though, twice in the previous three seasons the Second Round has been reached, while in 2011 the Glassboys pulled off a huge scalp with a replay victory over Plymouth Argyle in the First Round after a draw at Home Park.

2009 wasn't a bad year either, a narrow home defeat to Walsall in the First Round swelled the coffers somewhat. But overall, five of the past eight seasons has seen the Stour men reach the competition proper, and for a Step 3 club that's a hugely impressive achievement.

It hasn't been all about the Cup though, after being promoted to Step 3 in 2008 they've reached the Play Off's twice but not quite been able to make the jump to the Conference North. This season the Play Off's look a very strong possibility, but the rest will once again come down to nerve, experience, luck, astronomical configurations and the way the wind blows.

It's not always been like this.

The Seventies saw them yo-yo between the divisions of the Southern League, while the Eighties and Nineties were remarkable for being unremarkable. The War Memorial Ground was a problem though, it denied them promotion in 1991, and then after ignominiously falling into the Midland Alliance in 2000, they won the league twice and were refused re-admission to the Southern League.

Atmospheric Amblecote

Eventually though, they returned, and now, having moved North, things are looking very good. Crowds are up hugely, with gates over 600 commonplace. When I made my one and only previous trip in 1999 to see Belper Town in the FA Cup, I would guess maybe 150 turned out for it.

There is a buzz and a vibrancy around Stourbridge Football Club, and upon arriving at the Amblecote ground it was clearly evident. The crowds arrive early, the officials are friendly and helpful, and the banter in the bar and on the terraces is exactly what you would expect at a thriving football club.

The ground has been tidied up since my visit nearly 18 years ago. Both the main stand and the covered terrace behind the goal have been re-clad, while the terracing that sits between the structures is modern and tidy. The ground is still three sided, but that is a less of an issue compared to the draconian eras that prevented the clubs progress.

The game against struggling Ilkeston, who are a story in itself, was one I expected to see Stourbridge win comfortably. But it didn't quite shape up that way. Backed by a vociferous support, it was the Glassboys who started in positive fashion, and for the first half hour they poured forward but didn't really stretch the visiting goalkeeper. The young visitors started to gain confidence and after a spell of pressure they took the lead almost on the stroke of half time when Anthony Dwyer headed home unmarked.

The Spion Kop

Stourbridge continued to labour in the early stages of the second period, with their play becoming somewhat predictable. Ilkeston to their credit defended resolutely, but you did feel that if Stour could find the net, it could lead to an opening of the floodgates.

It took until the 75th minute, a clear penalty lead to Luke Benbow finding the target, only for Luke Rodgers to net from close range three minutes later to make it 2-1.

Stour were now dominant and it came as no surprise in the 82nd minute when Dan Preston found the net after a shot had bounced down off the crossbar and seemed destined not to cross the line.

It was a strange victory, that for long periods looked unlikely, but, to win when not at your best is the sign of a good side, so someone who claimed to know what they are talking about once said!

Talking to a long standing Stourbridge fan before the game, I asked him what his thoughts were about the play off's...,

"I don't want to go up, the Conference North is a no mans land....."

I then talked about the clubs profile and significant leap in support (632 tonight)....

"That's great, but the new breed have been spoiled, we beat Northampton and suddenly if we lose a league game the side get slated, but football doesn't work like that...."

Glass half full or Glass half empty? Who'd be a Glassboy.......

Packed Stand - Halcyon Days



Ryan McBride RIP

"Other footballers have dreams of going across the water and playing for Man United and Celtic but my dream as a boy was to play for Derry City and that came true." Ryan McBride


Saturday, 18 March 2017

Completist

Garforth Rangers  0  Altofts  6

West Yorkshire League – Division 2

I first encountered the West Yorkshire League towards the latter end of the 2007-08 season, I was cajoled into going to watch Ossett Common Rovers play, I quite liked it, so I thought when the chance arose I’d go and watch a few more games in the league.

I got to the odd few but didn’t really start to focus on it properly until 2014, and since then I’ve worked my way through all three divisions, to a point where just one more ground was needed to complete the full set, and that was today’s destination, Garforth Rangers.

Playing just outside Garforth in the village of Micklefield, they are quite a young club and only recently celebrated their 20 year anniversary, and while the club has a thriving junior section, the senior section hasn’t always been the most successful of outfits.

They finished bottom of the bottom division last season, not winning a game, in fact the three points they gained from draws all ended up being deducted, yes, it was very much a case of ‘nil point’! However, this season it’s looking a bit better, fourth from bottom, which is as good as mid-table in a division of its size.

A target for local artists - the stand at Micklefield Rec
Their opponents, Altofts, are pushing for promotion, in fact for a club of their stature and with the facilities they have, they shouldn’t be in this division in the first place. The ground is floodlit and as good as any in the league, and having first seen them ply their trade in the top flight, it does look like they are on the way back at last. How far they can go is I guess up to them, but the infrastructure is top drawer.

Pre-match snifters were taken at the Blands Arms, a Samuel Smiths pub, and I have to confess to not being too sure about these hostelries. Don’t get me wrong, nice enough venues, but as a lager drinker, I’m not sure about the Taddy Lager, and the Alpine Lager they have on offer. Call me narrow minded if you like, but I’m much happier with a Fosters or a Carling. Would you trust a pint that costs 2.20?

The ground at Micklefield Recreation Ground both surprised and impressed me. Parking on the roundabout at the end of Pit Lane, you have to cross over the busy railway line (it is a proper crossing, don’t panic!), and then walk down the field to the pitch, with the dressing rooms looking as though they are in an old house adjacent to the tracks on the right hand side.

Once at pitch side, the ground is fully railed, but on a day where the rain was pouring pre-match it was nice to see a sizable area of cover raised up from the pitch. You don’t find too many grounds with cover in this league, certainly not in the bottom division. Having said that, the rain eased just before kick off so the cover wasn’t required.

Free Kick............
Onto the game, it was pretty one sided. Altofts certainly had the better players and demonstrated a degree of confidence that was somewhat lacking in the home ranks. An early goal set the scene and by half time it was 3-0 to the visitors.

Garforth battled away but never looked like scoring, in fact the captain and centre-half bemoaned the fact that his strikers were putting too much pressure on the back four by falling to hold the ball up for any length of time to give them a breather. It didn’t get any better in the second half, and as Garforth tired more chances came and went, so in the end the 6-0 outcome was as inevitable as it was comprehensive. Altofts march on, Garforth can console themselves with the fact that they will certainly finish this season in a better position that previously.


And that was it, a champagne job as they say, but to be fair I think I’ll stick to lager, and it won’t be from Samuel Smiths!  

I had to run like buggery to get the same free kick from the other side!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Tenancy Agreement

Worksop Town  1  Handsworth Parramore  2

Northern Counties East League - Premier Division

You've got to be pretty thick skinned to be a Worksop Town fan.

The history of the club is such that a book could quite easily be written about the trials, tribulations, triumphs and indeed tragedies of a club that is reputedly the fourth oldest in the World.

After winning the Midland League in 1973, the club went on to become a strong Northern Premier League outfit, but then they were evicted from their Central Avenue ground, having to play at Gainsborough Trinity for three seasons while the new home at Sandy Lane was constructed.

Fortunes took a downturn on the pitch, they were relegated in 1989 but by 1998 they were back in the top flight of the NPL again, before eventually taking up a place in the inaugural Conference North. This lasted for three seasons but by now trouble was brewing, ownership changed hands, a rich investor had plans, and as is often the case, it started to go wrong. The money dried up, and the new owner decided he quite liked the Sandy Lane ground, but didn't like the football club anything like as much, so they once again suffered eviction while the ground sat idle.

Parramore Defend a Corner
 A nomadic spell fell upon the club, stints at Hucknall Town, Retford United and Ilkeston Town followed, it was far from ideal but support stayed loyal and club battled on in the top tier of the NPL.

While all this was happening, something was stirring in Sheffield. A wealthy businessman called Pete Whitehead had a plan, and it centred around a County League side called Parramore Sports. He re-housed them at the Don Valley Stadium, changed the name to Sheffield Parramore, and then managed to negotiate the purchase of Sandy Lane. Parramore became Worksop Parramore and up the leagues they climbed.

Being a nice chap, Mr Whitehead offered Worksop Town a solution, by giving them the option to become tenants at Sandy Lane, an option which clearly was a very attractive one given what had gone before. All looked good for Worksop, and guess what, in came a new backer, promotion to the Conference North was missed by a play-off whisker, only for it all to go pop almost overnight. Suddenly the befuddled fans of the Tigers were hit with the news that they were going to be starting the 2015-16 season two divisions lower in the Northern Counties East League, the finances were dictating it.

Worksop Parramore in the meantime had merged with Handsworth FC to create Handsworth Parramore, and guess what, they were in the same division as Worksop Town! This was going to be fun and games!

Both sides were fully intent on going for promotion, but neither achieved it despite strong squads, and rumoured to be sizable budgets. Sadly though Tadcaster Albion had too much for them in what is the NCEL promotion bottleneck. However, in terms of bragging rights, Parramore won both games, 3-2 and 5-0.

The Main Stand
Going in to this season, expectations were high once again, but Parramore stuttered at the start and Worksop jettisoned some of the higher earners as money once again became an issue. Cleethorpes Town look set to win it, and despite Worksop winning the first meeting this season, they are currently battling to finish in the top half of the table. Parramore will have a fight on to make the top three.

So not a great year for Landlord and Tenant at Sandy Lane, so with little at stake other than pride, what was the 'Battle of Bassetlaw' going to look like on a mild Spring evening?

A youthful Worksop side started strongly and took the lead through Jack Waddle who was given too much space in the box. It was the hosts who looked in control for the first half an hour as the more experienced visitors (Ok, away dressing room dwellers!) struggled to find any rhythm. However, a great run by Connor Smythe saw his low cross met by Aaron Moxam who netted his 41st of the season from close range. It was tough on Worksop who were certainly the more energetic and workmanlike side in the first period.

Steve Warne bundled the ball home early in the second half after what looked suspiciously like a foul on Worksop goalie and gaffer Jon Kennedy, and after that the experience of Parramore saw them restrict the Tigers to limited chances, while at the same time they looked dangerous themselves on the break, indeed coming close to a third when the post was rattled with a fierce shot.

The crowd of 378, of which the majority were in the Tigers corner, tried to roar on their young side but it was a bridge too far for them on the night, despite a positive and confident display. In players like Adam Scott, Kyle Jordan, Mitch Husbands, Waddle and the impressive 17 year old Sam Weston, the future on the field is bright for them.

Who's Stolen The TV Camera?
The banter was good as well. with Worksop's fans dishing plenty out to Parramore, most of which centred around wasting money, a lack of history and the fact they will be meeting once again next season. Sadly though, until Parramore finally get a base in Handsworth, they won't get anything like the kind of support that their ambitions warrant, so in terms of a response, there was little or nothing coming back in return.

But, in the cold light of day, when it comes to Sandy Lane and Worksop Town's relationship with it, at this moment in time, their destiny is once again very much in the hands of others, and history tells us that isn't a particularly secure relationship to be in. As a Tigers fan, keep growing that skin, you know as well as anyone that the future is far from predictable.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Divisions

Long Eaton United  4  Sporting Khalsa  6

Midland Football League - Premier Division

On Saturday, households, communities and workplaces will be divided, because at the City Ground Nottingham Forest take on Derby County in the battle for East Midlands bragging rights.

No place will be more divided than the border town of Long Eaton though. Situated right on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border, footballing allegiances are very much split. It isn't just football though, geographically the town sits in Derbyshire, yet the postcodes are all NG (Nottingham). In fact, in political circles debate has rumbled on as to just where it belongs, and continues to do so as different bodies look to stake a claim to the town (thanks Wiki).

You could forgive the locals for having something of an identity crisis!


                                                   The 'Big Jim' Stand

Speaking of divisions, Long Eaton United have played in a few over the years. When I first started to show an interest in football in the early eighties, they plied their trade in the Midland Counties League, only to them join the newly formed Northern Counties East League. They were placed in Division One South but did eventually make it to the Premier Division, before taking the decision to defect to the Central Midlands League.

Only those close to the club can tell you if that was the right move to make or not, but suffice to say 16 years later they found themselves back in the NCEL Premier, the league where they came from. There they stayed until until 2014 when they were moved to the Midland Football League, due to geography again, they were right on the border between the North and the Midlands in footballing terms.


t'Other Side

Long Eaton has a population of around 35,000 people, and that you would think could warrant a football club playing at a higher level, indeed Alfreton has a significantly smaller number, yet sustains a club at Conference North level, albeit one man has a significant influence in that.

The ground at Grange Park, in my view is comfortably good enough to host Step 4 football and I would suggest it is better than several Step 3 grounds I've visited. They have a tremendous community involvement with Junior and Ladies teams, and judging by the number of advertising boards around the ground, they do have backing within local business. The infrastructure of the club from the outside looking in looks spot on, they just need success on the field to make that leap.

One name is synonymous with Long Eaton United, and that's Jim Fairley, and that might only be one name, but it's two men! Jim Senior ran the club for many years, whereas his son (Jim Junior) was a player, then Manager, before eventually becoming Chairman himself. It really is a football club that owes so much to the Fairley's, and that's why the main stand is named after 'Big Jim'.

Sporting Khalsa arrived in town tonight on the back of a long winning run. Having only reached senior football in 2004, they have come a long way in a short time. Now playing at the Noose Lane ground that was formerly used by Willenhall Town, they had a great run in the FA Cup last season, going out in the 4th Qualifying Round to FC United of Manchester, while this season they reached the Quarter Final of the FA Vase, losing to Coleshill Town.

Arguably one of the best sides in the league, and having beaten Long Eaton 5-0 earlier in the season, when they went 2-0 up pretty quickly, you couldn't help but fear the worst for the hosts who looked all at sea in defence. However, Khalsa missed a great chance to make it 3-0, then within a matter of minutes the game was level at 2-2, it was hard to understand from a Khalsa point of view how that happened?

By half time the two goal advantage had been restored though and the visitors went in with a 4-2 lead, it had been superb entertainment and well worth the £6 admission.


Width!

The second half was equally as dramatic, we got to 3-5, only for Long Eaton to be awarded a penalty in the closing stages, which was duly converted. At 4-5 you felt they had a chance, but throughout the game they had been playing catch up, and while Long Eaton battled hard, you always felt Khalsa were the better outfit, especially in the final third where they were quick and clinical.

A sixth goal did arrive as Long Eaton committed men forward, it was game over, 4-6, and a fabulous advert for non-league football. Both sides should be congratulated for contributing to a brilliant spectacle, played in a great spirit.

Long Eaton don't have a game on Saturday, that means the 0.3% or so of the town's population who watch the Grange Park Blues on a regular basis can focus their attentions somewhere else for once (I wonder where?), but they'll soon be back, especially with entertainment like this on offer. Maybe a few more might start to come along as well, it would certainly sort out the problem of divided loyalties in the town.........

Saturday, 11 March 2017

When Respect Goes Too Far

Cannock United  0  Acorn Albion  0

Staffordshire County Senior League - Division Two South

Image result for cannock united fc

I'm all for Respect in football, and one of my bugbears is referee's who allow players to hurl abuse at them with seemingly no consequence.

Today, I saw a referee who clearly shared my views, but in my opinion, he took it too far, to the detriment of the game in fact, but more on that later.

Cannock United play at the Norton Canes Community Centre, and the fixture against St Georges Park based Acorn Albion was published on the leagues website as an 'extra fixture' in Division Two, and looking ahead in the calendar, there are a number of games listed under the same guise. So it appears the division has run out of fixtures too early, so they've created some more to fill in the gap until the end of the season!

The ground is a fully roped off pitch set behind the Community Centre, which in itself is no more than five minutes drive from the A5 at Brownhills. With some shops and a Co-Op no more than a couple of minutes walk away, it's quite a busy little area, but in terms of those watching the game, one hand would have been enough to count them on.

Now, the referee. Let me make one point straight away, his decisions in terms of the game itself were spot on, no complaints with that, but his officious nature was something else.

He booked the Cannock skipper for dissent, and his crime was to merely ask him on a couple of occasions if he could make his point as Captain about decisions being made. Then soon after a further Cannock player was booked for opening his mouth, and in this case the player was substituted to prevent further trouble.

The Cannock Manager at this stage berated his players saying that they hadn't had a booking for dissent all season and now they had two in ten minutes.

The half time team talk consisted of the fact that clearly this referee showed a no tolerance approach to dissent, so basically, in the second period, say nothing.

Acorn worked it out quickly, and decided early doors to say nothing, but as the got mid way through the second period, a third Cannock player was booked for saying something innocuous, and this enraged the home Manager, bearing in mind his earlier comments...

"Don't say another word lads, he's clearly got it in for us........."

Within seconds the Managers had his marching orders, and that was where the fun started.

The young lady running the line for Cannock was also Assistant Manager, so as he left the field he summoned her to the dugout, which meant she had to give up the flag, but at the same time, he also refused to let any of the substitutes take over the flag duties. It all got a bit chaotic, so I shouted across to offer my services, and despite a couple of Acorn players pointing this out to the referee that a replacement was in situ, the Acorn Manager chose to step in.

The problem now was that both sets of players were more focused on the referee than the game, laughing and joking amongst themselves about the farce it was starting to become.

The game finished 0-0,. it wasn't great, but as the referee stood in the centre circle for what seemed like an age at the end of the game while the perplexed players left the pitch, you couldn't help but think he'd stolen the show.

The point is though, no one swore at him, no one harangued him and in terms of a game for him to manage it couldn't have been easier as the players were good as gold when it came to the actual play.

Like I said at the start, I hate to see players getting away with what they do in terms of dissent, but if we are going to get to a stage where the passion is removed and players can't say a word, which was all it was today, then we are going the wrong way.

You got it wrong today referee, there are laws, and then there's the spirit of the laws, have a think about that